NewsTue Oct 2, 2007 - 12:15 pm EST
Infiltrating the infiltrators
By Samantha Singson
From the October 2007 edition of The Interim Newspaper
New York, NY,October 2, 2007 (theinterim.com) - I didn’t relish the prospect of spending my evening sitting in on a National Organization of Women event, but I couldn’t help but be curious. A colleague of mine had chanced upon an announcement for the monthly meeting where feminist reporter Eleanor Bader would be speaking about her experience after "infiltrating" the National Right to Life Committee Convention this past June. How could I pass up the opportunity to hear some of "the other side’s" observations about pro-lifers?
Walking into the meeting that evening, I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive. My goal was to sit in on the meeting and "blend in." I walked into a small, crowded office with virulently purple walls covered in signs with the familiar battle cry of "Keep Abortion Legal" and random bowls of condoms scattered on desks.
After signing in with the two smiling, college-aged greeters at the door, I settled myself into a far corner of the room to observe the proceedings.
Primarily attended by women, most of whom were at least 40 years old or older, many were there twittering with excitement about Bader’s impending presentation. They all wanted to hear what right-wing, anti-choice secrets the reporter had managed to glean during her time "behind enemy lines."
Bader, author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism and reporter from Women’s eNews and Lilith, didn’t disappoint. A petite, animated, engaging, articulate woman in her late 40s, Bader’s opening salvo to the crowd was, "People! This is not a marginal group of crazies!"
Describing her "infiltration" of the NRLC meetings, Bader sounded like a mischievous school girl relishing her latest uncaught misdeed. Bader spoke of how she had registered for the convention under a false name to observe the proceedings, almost as if the NRLC convention was a National Geographic episode and the pro-life participants in attendance were some new and exotic species whose habits and interactions had to be studied and picked apart.
Three things really struck me about Bader’s presentation:
- They underestimate pro-lifers. Believing in the stereotype of a movement dominated by old white men and subscribed to by marginalized, zealous, religiously motivated, uneducated "church ladies," Bader couldn’t quite keep the surprise out of her voice when she reported that those at the NRLC Convention were "smart, educated, beautiful and articulate."
In Bader’s own words, "This just isn’t what you always heard the ‘anti-choicers’ were like."
Bader also expressed amazement at the level of organization and professionalism exhibited by the NRLC convention hosts, its speakers and its participants. Passing around the 100-page convention program for the audience to look at, Bader pointed out the number of sponsors, as well as the quality and the variety of topics that were being addressed.
Comparing her 1992 NRLC convention experience to 2007, Bader was shocked by how savvy the pro-life side had become. She sternly warned her audience that the pro-life movement’s leaders were "covering all their bases" by not just filling people’s head with the rhetoric, but equipping them by providing information on lobbying, organization-building, political campaigning and youth outreach.
- They’re intimidated and feeling marginalized. Detailing the NRLC presidential forum, which was attended in person by three Republican presidential candidates, NOW New York staffers shook their heads and asked, "Why aren’t we getting presidential candidates to address our annual conference?"
- Discussing some of the movement’s current efforts, Bader was appalled by the "chipping away of Roe" through legislative action and media campaigns on mandatory sonograms, the partial-birth abortion ban, informed consent and fetal pain.
- They are struggling to articulate their argument. Bader stated that "even NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) doesn’t use the ‘A-word’ anymore. Part of what we need to do is talk up the social good that abortion is. Abortion is a moral good and a social good."
Seeming to be heartened by the positive response from the crowd, Bader pumped and loudly proclaimed "It’s abortion and it’s good!"
I couldn’t help but register the irony of having "infiltrated" a feminist meeting wherein the guest speaker was talking about her own undercover experience with pro-lifers. Still aflutter with all that she had heard, the blue-haired woman in her 60s seated in front of me turned to me and said, "Could you imagine being a mole at such an event? Wasn’t that simply fascinating?"
Without batting an eyelash I replied, "Fascinating!"
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